North Shore ringette shooting for survival in Vernon
A gold medal and the preservation of their sport — that’s what’s on the line for a team of North Shore ringette players set to compete at the BC Winter Games next month.
Ringette enrolment is dwindling on the North Shore and across the Lower Mainland, with the winter sport fighting a losing battle against year-round soccer to retain and attract new players.
Teresa Harris, ringette manager for the 2012 BC Winter Games Zone 5 — an area that includes Vancouver, North Shore, Squamish and the Sunshine Coast — admits it was a struggle to field a 13-player team for the BC Winter Games.
With no minor ringette clubs left in the two latter districts, and only a handful of Vancouver players in this U16 age group, there was a shallow pool to draw from.
“There are kids out there that should be playing ‘A’ [ringette] that haven’t had that opportunity in their entire career,” said Harris, surveying a team practice Saturday evening at the West Vancouver Ice Arena. “It’s tough.”
The last time there was a U16 ‘A’ ringette team on the North Shore was five years ago. Since then, the North West Vancouver Ringette Association has scraped together one team of solid players who are committed to the sport. This group won silver at the house league level ringette provincials last year.
Younger age divisions are also on thin ice.
“No U14/Tween Team for 2011/12”, punctuated with a sad-faced emoticon on the North West Vancouver Ringette Association’s website, speaks to the current climate of this community.
Three U14 teams was the norm for the NWVRA, not too long ago.
Once considered the female alternative to hockey, ringette — a fast-paced game in which players use a straight stick to pass, carry, and shoot a rubber ring to score goals — is now also open to boys. Outsiders might be surprised to learn that strategy-wise, ringette has more in common with basketball than it does hockey.
“It’s similar to basketball in that it uses a shot clock,” said Harris. “There are a lot of three-on-twos, setting picks.”
Harris’s daughter Mikaela, 14, plays and referees ringette for the NWVRA.
A twist of fate introduced her to the sport a decade ago. She was living next door to a national ringette team player who was in recruiting mode.
“She had told me from a very young age, you are going to play ringette,” said Mikaela, while on a water break from her BC Winter Games practice. “I’m really glad she did.”
Now Mikaela is on a mission to sign up boys. There is currently only one male on the team, a 13-year-old who plays goalie. He joined ringette at the age of five and also plays hockey.
Harris said some parents still wrongly perceive ringette as “a sissy sport” and fear their kid is going to be made fun of.
“It’s a tough sport. Anyone who says it isn’t, they are just making excuses,” added Mikaela.
Similar to hockey, there is stick checking to gain control of the ring and body contact where two players might be pushing shoulder to shoulder.
Ringette also involves hand-eye coordination — you have to be able to stab the stick into the ring.
Team captain Rachel Breckner said she loves the feeling of skating down the ice with the wind behind her.
An empty bench means she gets a lot of ice time these days, but that’s not a good thing, she concluded.
“You get out of breath,” said Breckner.
During the BC Winter Games, held in Vernon from Feb. 23-26, the North Shore ringette contingent from Zone 5 will be facing teams that made cuts and whose players were drawn from strong talent pools.
Zone 5 still has an advantage, though, in that 11 of the squad’s 13 players were on the same U14 team last year.
“Other teams do not have the same bond and actually come from competing teams,” explained Harris. “We may not have the strongest individual players but we have the history of the strongest team bond.”
The chance to participate in the BC Winter Games and meet top-calibre athletes and coaches will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a high point for a team that has an uncertain future on the North Shore after this season.
“If there are not enough [ringette] players in the under 16 age grouping, in order to have a team they will have to join another association,” said Harris.
The NWVRA will be hosting a Come Try Ringette event, this Saturday (Jan. 28) at Karen Magnussen Arena at 10:45 a.m. Equipment is provided, including skates. Visit nwvra.com for more information.